1913: Seeds of Conflict

(Rochester, N.Y.) – Breaking new ground and laying bare old myths, 1913: Seeds of Conflict, directed by award-winning filmmaker Ben Loeterman, explores the little-known history of Palestine during the latter part of the Ottoman Empire. Living side by side in the multi-lingual, cosmopolitan city of Jerusalem, Jews, Christians and Muslims intermingled with a cultural fluidity enjoyed by all. How did this land of milk and honey, so diverse and rich in culture, become the site of today’s bitter and seemingly intractable struggle? Was there a turning point when things could have been different? Weaving the raveled threads of Arab and Jewish narratives back together, 1913: Seeds of Conflict provides new and fascinating insights into events that took place in Palestine which presaged a century of unrest. 1913: Seeds of Conflict premieres on WXXI-TV on Tuesday, June 30, 2015 at 9 p.m.

The film examines the divergent social forces growing in Palestine before World War I that fueled the rise of Jewish and Arab nationalism. Combining the perspectives of Arab, Israeli and American scholars, the film includes information previously unavailable from the Turkish Ottoman archives and largely untouched by historians. Shot on location in Israel and the West Bank, dramatized scenes bring many key figures of the era to life, with dialogue in five languages taken directly from the historical record — personal letters, government documents, and newspaper accounts. 1913: Seeds of Conflict offers a fresh look at the complex circumstances that transformed this once relatively peaceful outpost of the Ottoman Empire into a land perpetually torn by violence.

The mid-1800s half a million Ottoman subjects — over 400,000 Muslims, 60,000 Christians, and 20,000 Jews — call Palestine home. Sharing a homeland, they find commonality in their identity as Ottomans, gathering in the coffeehouses of Jerusalem to listen to music performed by mixed groups of Arabs, Christians, and Jews. Many Jews in Palestine are Sephardic, of Mediterranean origin, and as Ottoman citizens, become integrated in the existing political framework. In an empire dominated by Islamic culture, they speak Arabic and, like Christians, accept their secondary status.

But this soon changes with the arrival of the Ashkenazi — Jewish migrants from Eastern Europe, fleeing anti-Semitic violence. Jerusalem's representative to the Parliament in Istanbul, Ruhi al-Khalidi, voices growing concerns about what he sees as the Jews' secret agenda to build a state. The influx of foreign Jews is undermining the delicate cultural balance carefully nurtured by prominent Ottoman Jews such as Albert Antebi. He embraces the idea of economic and cultural Zionism but fears that a land grab will lead to bitterness and arouse anti-Semitism. As large tracts of land are purchased from mostly absentee landowners for the new arrivals, the Arabs who had lived on and cultivated the land for generations grow ever more resentful.

In 1903, a second wave of Russian Jews — many bringing a determined socialist agenda and no intent to assimilate into the local culture — heightens tensions. Flush with cash raised in Europe and America, Arthur Ruppin arrives from Germany to be the Zionist's land agent while rising Arab leader Khalil Sakakini speaks out against the displacement of local farmers and calls for a new Palestinian Arab identity.

A decade later, tensions erupt between neighboring Arabs and Jews in a vineyard of Rehovot, just outside present-day Tel Aviv. A scuffle over a bunch of grapes turns into a shootout, leaving one Arab farmer and one Jewish guardsman dead. Within days, the dispute fuels an uproar about the future of each group's claim to the same homeland. It marks a turning point in the history of the Arabs and Jews. Then, the outbreak of World War I prevents a resolution to the conflict and years of peaceful coexistence come to an end. More than a century of painful conflict would ensue.

Pictured: An Arab family of Ramallah, 1900-1910. Most Arabs lived in the hill towns of Palestine, away from the coastal lowlands where Zionist activity would first take root.
Credit: Courtesy of Matson Collection, Library of Congress 




WXXI is the essential, life-long educational media resource for the Greater Rochester area. WXXI puts the community first with programming that stimulates and expands thought, inspires the spirit, opens cultural horizons and promotes understanding of diverse community issues. Log on to wxxi.org for more information about our services and programs.